This busy month has been punctuated with moments of extreme activity and excitement.
The Heritage Lottery Fund has announced their support of the RENEW project with a major grant of £1.2 million. This generous award will go towards restoring the Grade 2* Festival Theatre (re-insulating and improving the Festival Theatre’s roof, repairing concrete, improving glazing and timber fasciae and re-instating the balcony seats), alongside a three-year community participation programme. Starting in January this extensive project will include archiving, digitisation, a touring exhibition, open days, community performances, traineeships and almost boundless volunteer opportunities. It is an extravagant multi-tiered cake of community engagement and opportunity.
Comley, our demolition contractor, having successfully battled through wind, rain and freezing temperatures, are now tidying up the site. A single mound of earth and broken rock, together with small piles of ferrous metal, await the last skip before Christmas. This is all that is left of the old extensions. It is suddenly easy to see the beauty of the building as a clear statement of the architect’s original intent – a concrete tent in the middle of a park with the a single purpose of bringing theatre to Chichester. The building suddenly makes sense. It is hard to exercise enough patience to wait and see how the new extension will fit on the back, but the plans look wonderful.
However RENEW is not the only part of the Theatre buzzing with industry. In London (or ‘Chichester Festival Theatre city’ as it is being re-named) on a single drizzly day in November, Chichester Festival Theatre launched two wonderful shows onto a London audience: 2008’s Goodnight Mister Tom is a welcome change for the Phoenix Theatre, who manfully brushed away the debris left over from 10,000 performances of Blood Brothers in a fortnight; and Festival 2012’s Kiss Me, Kate at the always glamorous Old Vic. Both shows have opened to hugely positive reviews and run well into the new year. Meanwhile Singin’ in the Rain and Yes, Prime Minister continue triumphantly.
Chichester Festival Youth Theatre (CFYT) and the indefatigable Learning & Participation Department (LEAP) are making a habit of showing us all up. CFYT West Sussex, the Youth Theatre’s new groups across the county, have been receiving memberships and will begin in January. CFYT have spent the last week sharing short pieces in the Minerva; CFYT Friday (our special needs group) have received funding from West Sussex County Council to make a short documentary about themselves; plans are being developed for a CFYT extension group for those aged 18 and over. There is no rest.
2013 is clambering over the horizon, with a whole new season of Theatre and events that will make us forget the long winter. The RENEW project will run fluently in the background like the hum of a projector throughout the summer season and indeed, we will still be watching it all take shape a year from now. Although by then, the prospect of ‘going home’ will be eagerly anticipated by all the staff, who are already talking of 2014 as ‘the first year back’.